Both Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars The Clone Wars have been a wonderful addition to the Star Wars canon. Making serial stories for the small screen has enabled Star Wars storytellers and fans to dig into some of the meaty details and behind-the-scenes plots that just cannot fit into a 2-and-a-half hour movie time.
The Clone Wars took on the great task of filling in the very rich and colorful background that we were given only a taste of in the Prequel films. The world that Anakin experienced as a boy and Jedi was far richer than was the world of Luke Skywalker. The movies only had time to skim the surface of all of this material, but in The Clone Wars we were given a chance to experience this vast world on a episode by episode basis.
We learned about the clones, senators and rulers, the underworld of Corusant, smugglers and bounty hunters, many different Jedi, and multiple unique races and cultures. Clone Wars gave so much more meaning to the Prequels by filling in the background and giving us all of the individual stories that fed into the bigger story.
Star Wars Rebels is another great gift to the Star Wars universe, but it is a gift uniquely its own. Here are 6 ways that Rebels is different from The Clone Wars.
1. Rebels Keeps it Simple and Intimate
The Clone Wars was layered and complex. Even though we had a primary group of characters (Obi-Wan, Anakin, Ahsoka, Padme, Captain Rex), we were introduced to literally hundreds of new characters and story lines, and we only got a fraction of the available stories. The Clone Wars was a very busy series.
Rebels by contrast, is very simple and intimate. We have 6 main characters (Hera, Kanan, Zeb, Sabine, Ezra, Chopper) that we stay with all the time. Even our cast of background characters (Ahsoka, Kallus, Rex, Commander Sato) is kept to the minimum. This enables us to just focus on our Rebels, day in and day out. We see everything through their eyes and perspective.
The Empire destroyed the connections and layers of the Republic. It destroyed trade, government structures, and long-living groups like the Jedi. Even as it encompassed most of the galaxy, the Empire managed to disconnect the peoples in the galaxy more than ever before. Therefore, it makes sense that we are going to experience fewer people at a time, fewer people are having shared experiences that they can communicate about.
This simplicity also sets the stage for our Rebels to begin fighting to join with other rebel forces. The Empire knows it cannot face a united front, so it fights tooth and nail to keep people apart through military and propaganda. In Rebels we get a front-row seat to the beginning of the unifying of the Rebellion. It starts small, but we know it will become something more.
The animation of The Clone Wars was very angular and structured. There were far more harsh angles and lines. This kept up with the fast pace of that series where a large-scale war was constantly raging.
Rebels by contrast has very soft, rounded animation. It is richly colorful with layers and tones to both the settings and the characters themselves. This animation is very approachable and puts you at your ease with the more focused pace of the series.
Both series have used the beautiful designs created by the talented Ralph McQuarrie, but the animators also managed to give each series its own unique look, thus separating them in our minds.
3. Rebels Has a Family Structure
This is one of my absolute favorite aspects of Rebels, and it goes along with the smaller cast and more intimate setting.
While The Clone Wars showed us people in all occupations and social levels, we never experienced a “family”. Everything was formality and rules. Sure, we knew that Obi-Wan and Anakin loved each other as brothers. Anakin and Padme carried their love as husband a wife secretly. And we especially know how much Anakin loved and cared for Ahsoka as a mentor and older brother. But none of these things could ever be acknowledged because of stifling rules and protocols that ended up contributing to the downfall of the Jedi and the Republic.
A family unit and affection is the strongest bond known to anyone. It’s stronger than any government, organization, or group. That is part of why our Rebels are so strong and effective, because they are a family first.
The writers have recognized this fact and how much we love it about their show, as a nod to it they even put in beautiful lines and scenes that accent the “family” side of Rebels.
Kanan and Hera love each other deeply. They have this subtle current of love that is built on shared strength and experiences. They function as husband and wife or mom and dad. This gives the rest of the crew something to depend on and take comfort in.
“Kanan’s family, and we do anything for family.” Hera (Season 1, Ep 15)
“Alright kids, make mom and dad proud.” Hera (Season 2, Ep 1)
“He takes after Hera sometimes.” Kanan (referencing Ezra, Season 2, Ep 9)
“Sabine, you’re sounding more like a Jedi than a Mandalorian.” (Hera)
“Well, I guess I’ve just been raised right.” (Sabine, Season 2, Ep 13)
Hera has a tenderness for those on her crew that is very motherly. She makes Sabine feel acknowledged and understood. Ezra finds deep comfort and sympathy in his and Hera’s shared hope. Zeb and Chopper would be lost without Hera’s gentle compassion and strong leadership.
Kanan’s attitude towards the crew of The Ghost is one of protection and leadership. He prioritizes their well-being first and values each of their skills. He has taken Ezra under his wing with a very fatherly hand and Ezra soaks it up like a sponge.
Sabine, Ezra, Zeb, and Chopper fall into place under Kanan and Hera’s strong leadership. They all love each other and fight fiercely together. They are able to be brave because they know their family has their back. Each of them knows what they have lost, and they deeply value what they have gained….a new family. This love drives each of them to be better.
“I already lost my parents, I’m not about to lose my new family.” Ezra (Season 1, Ep 13)
4. Rebels is in a Harsher, more Primitive Setting
The glamor of The Clone Wars seems to be just a distant memory, just like the Republic is.
All that once was has fallen into ruins and is now under the dark shadow of The Empire. We were introduced to some very poor and desperate corners of the galaxy in The Clone Wars, but since the Empire came into being more systems have fallen into poverty and despair.
This sets the stage beautifully for the ragged Rebellion that will welcome Luke Skywalker in just a few years.
5. Tying Together the Republic, and the New Hope
The Clone Wars filled in the missing years between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Rebels fills in the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. It sets the stage for not only A New Hope, but also the upcoming story of Rogue 1 where we will get more of the behind-the-scenes story.
Rebels has done its job beautifully in taking the last remnants of the Republic and Clone Wars, and tying that in with the new generation. We have gotten to see beloved characters from the Prequels and Clone Wars series such as Obi-Wan (via hologram, but perhaps more one day), Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex, Hondo, Sentaor Bail Organa, and Tarkin.
As we have revisited these old characters and few of their stories, we have also been seamlessly introduced to the new generation of characters. Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, and more to come in Season 3.
Rebels has been a place where the past is meeting the future.
6. Rebels Introduces a New Generation of Jedi, One That is Much Stronger
The old Jedi Order has been wiped out. Kanan Jarrus is one of the few remaining Jedi, and he has now taken on Ezra Bridger as a padawan. As far as they know, they are the only ones in the entire galaxy. Kanan, whose training was cut short by Order 66, never officially reached “Jedi Knight” status. He was forced into hiding as a teenager, and since then has developed his own methods of survival and fighting.
Kanan has a much more loose and raw way of fighting than the Jedi of old. He can wield his fists and a blaster as well as he does a lightsaber or the Force. He doesn’t just rely on Jedi knowledge, but also his own wits and tricks of the trade to accomplish his goals. He’s scrappy and agile. And let’s be honest, he’s really, really good at it.
Kanan’s version of being a “Jedi” is also far more familiar and less formal than the Jedi of old. He doesn’t hold Ezra and those around him at arms length and keep all emotion at bay. Kanan engages his feelings for those he cares about, and he isn’t hindered by those emotions, he is empowered by them. This is so much more natural than the emotional sterility that the Jedi of old attempted to practice.
Kanan is the perfect mentor and father figure to Ezra, who is also scrappy and skilled. Ezra is very down to earth, he feels things very deeply, and he has skills outside of just being a Jedi. These two are a master/padawan match made for each other. Ezra loves his master like a father. He trusts Kanan, he takes comfort in Kanan.
My favorite scenes involving these two is when Ezra experiences something so horrible or sad that he starts to weep. Kanan doesn’t tell him to be quiet or get control, he holds Ezra in his arms and comforts him. This is natural, the Jedi of old were not.
Kanan and Ezra open the doors to introduce the new breed of Jedi, a breed that isn’t steeped in stale tradition and zero emotion. This new kind of Jedi is more compatible with the galaxy as it is and far more effective than the aloof old Jedi. Kanan, Ezra, Luke Skywalker, Rey, Finn, and hopefully more in the future are all members of this “new” order.
Rebels has been a delight for Star Wars fans old and new. A major shout-out and thank-you to the makers (we love you Dave Filoni) and actors behind this amazing series. You have given us a new Star Wars family to fall in love with and cheer on.
Star Wars Rebels Season 3 premieres Saturday, September 24th on Disney XD! And I for one, cannot wait to return to a galaxy, far, far away. Keep fighting Rebels!